Recognizing the high demand for popular brand name food imports with a Mehadrin hashgacha in Israel was the impetus three years ago for opening our STAR-K Israel office. We felt uniquely qualified to begin working with Israel’s largest food distributors due to our reputation of always maintaining a high degree of professionalism, our food technology expertise, and worldwide presence in the global marketplace.
STAR-K was fortunate in teaming up with Rabbi Ahron Haskel who, with his many years of experience, accepted our offer to become director of STAR-K Israel. Along with his keen understanding of the intricacies of the Israeli food market and the high regard that both kashrus professionals and food distributors have for Rav Haskel, he was the perfect choice for this newest STAR-K venture. Distributors such as Israel Beer Breweries Ltd (IBBL)/Coca-Cola, Osem/Nestlé, Strauss, and Tnuva were equally pleased with the new opportunities to import Mehadrin products for the Israeli public.
Something to Drink To!
STAR-K has also been very active in providing the Israeli Mehadrin-seeking public with a variety of alcoholic beverages. We are now working with three of Israel’s newest distilleries: Milk & Honey Distillery (Tel Aviv); Thinker’s Distillery (Yerushalayim), which produces fine vodkas, gins, and bourbon; and Oak and Ash Distillery (Beit Shemesh), which produces a line of liquors that includes apple brandy, gin, rum, and vodka, and also brews beer and hard cider.
STAR-K’s assistance was also a key factor in overseeing Milk and Honey Distillery’s first-time-ever production of a high-quality whiskey aged in sherry casks sporting a Mehadrin hashgacha. STAR-K’s policy regarding aging whiskey in sherry casks dictates that only new sherry casks may be used.
Rabbi Haskel describes the long road facilitating and administrating this certification: “Over the last twenty years I visited over one hundred distilleries in Scotland and Ireland, beginning at a time when most kosher consumers drank whiskey without certification, or without direct knowledge that a particular spirit was researched by competent kashrus experts and found to be free of any kashrus concerns, such as aging whiskeys in previously used non-kosher sherry casks to enhance the taste of their distillate. This practice of course raises serious kashrus concerns.”
With the direction of Rav Haskel, Milk and Honey, whose entire product line is kosher, engaged wineries in Israel, Spain, France, and elsewhere to make a special production of sherry, wine, and cognac for the sole purpose of being able to procure new casks for subsequent distillations.
From Distilleries to Breakfast Foods
STAR-K’s Mehadrin presence in Israel extends as well to the world of breakfast cereals. Special Mehadrin productions of a number of the most popular American cereals (e.g., General Mills/ Nestlé’s Honey Nut Cheerios, which is licensed in Israel to Osem/Nestlé) are made weekly for the Israeli market that are not only pareve but also Pas Yisroel and Yoshon.
Osem/Nestlé’s Business Executive Officer Nahum Seeman explains, “Osem/Nestlé – founded by religious Jewish people – has kosher in its DNA. It wants to ensure the products it sells are genuinely kosher and will do the job 100 percent. Our basic approach is to aim for the maximum level of kosher a product can achieve.
“When Osem was acquired by Nestlé, it provided the opportunity to import branded Nestlé products produced in factories in the U.S., Europe and Asia to Israel. The initial process of educating each new factory about kosher requirements and supervision, in addition to reviewing formulas and production processes, is complicated and a huge investment for Osem and the factory. For a new factory it can be a bit intimidating at the start of the process. Our kosher partner needs to know how to communicate with factories so they do not get scared off. We need strong kosher partners who are very professional and confident about keeping the kosher requirements, because this reflects on our reputation, too.
“In the kosher world, you need to find solutions to issues and ways of bridging gaps. This requires not only an understanding of the food industry and food technology, but flexibility, innovative thinking, and new ideas while keeping the kosher requirements. Rabbi Aharon Haskel and his team at STAR-K Israel really helped us improve the kosher stability and kosher opportunities in our existing factories – and they facilitate the opening of new ones.”
Another key player on the Israeli import forefront is Tnuva, an Israeli food creation and marketing company. It is the largest food producer in Israel. Tnuva works with quite a few suppliers and kosher organizations, but it knows that when it comes to STAR-K, they are aware that their collaboration with us is unique and positive. According to Tnuva CEO Iram Graiver, the fact that STAR-K is an international company with a presence in 102 countries means they have quick access to a host of professional mashgichim anywhere around the globe whenever needed, thus saving the company a great deal in travel expenses.
Additionally, Mr. Graiver noted that STAR-K not only certifies plants and products and issues kosher certificates, but assists companies in finding suppliers and alternatives for the raw materials they need for their productions, and helps companies to come up with kosher solutions to any challenge that may arise. They credit this much appreciated support to STAR-K’s team of kosher professionals that does its job so incredibly well. Tnuva is known for its high-quality requirements, just as STAR-K is known for its high standards and exacting policies, and STAR-K’s professional team manages to combine all of the above with amazing results.
The Gelatin Revolution
Another significant contribution for the Israeli food industry which presented many challenges was the making of kosher gelatin from fish skins for a special Mehadrin run. Rabbi Haskel and his team, with their expertise in the kashrus of complex ingredients used by food manufacturers, oversaw an especially challenging African production of this vital raw material.
Rabbi Haskel explains, “Lake Victoria, which is near the countries of Kenya, Uganda, and the province of Wanja in Tanzania, contains mostly kosher fish, and many companies market the fish to kosher fish consumers around the world.
“STAR-K was engaged by Genesis Bio Limited, which decided to launch a special project for the benefit of the Mehadrin public, to take on the task of certification. This was further complicated by restrictions during COVID. One of the special tools we built for the project is called the ‘Entebbe Menorah,’ which performs libun chamur to kasher the equipment according to the highest kosher standards.”
Those equipment standards were developed by Rav Heinemann. Furthermore, the Rav established STAR-K’s fish checking policy that states that each fish is required to be individually inspected for the presence of kosher simanim (fish scales). This standard is universally applied to all STAR-K-certified fish productions, and was meticulously adhered to during the gelatin run. Rabbi Haskel continues, “For five consecutive weeks, four mashgichim supervised the production of gelatin.” They were inspecting every single fish for simanim!
Guy Peleg, CEO of Genesis Bio, provides a behind-the-scenes look. “The STAR-K guides, accompanies, and gives us a kosher direction for all stages of the project, and is responsible for the highest level of kosher food in the world. The transparency and full trust built between Genesis Bio and STAR-K is the secret of our success. We see ourselves as shluchei mitzvah and we have a responsibility to supply our gelatin with the highest kosher standard.”
As STAR-K Israel moves ahead to meet the increasing demand by Israeli Mehadrin consumers for food and beverage imports, we anticipate that the growth of STAR-K Israel will continue to flourish and bear new ‘fruit.’
SOME NEWLY CERTIFIED STAR-K ISRAELI CONSUMER BRANDS
Delicious Premade Meals
Kafu Zan Pizza
Osem Dips & Spreads
Shimrit ‘Squeez’ Pancake & Waffle Batter
Taim Stuffed Vine Leaves
Tivol Gourmet Bowls
Tnuva Alternative Gouda-Style Ptitim
Vitaminchik Vitamin Pouches
STAR-K CERTIFIED MEHADRIN LIQUORS
Gin – Tanqueray, Thinkers
Tequila – Don Julio, Espolon, Volcan
Vodka – Smirnoff
Whiskey – Ardberg,
Cardhu, Glemorangie, Johnnie Walker, M&H, Royal Lochnagar, Talisker, Wild
 See “Mashke Yisroel: Liquor l’Mehadrin comes of Age: A Behind-the-Scenes Interview with STAR-K Israel’s Director of Kashrus, Rav Ahron Haskel,” Kashrus Kurrents, Fall 2020.